Football Chat Archive May 2020

Welcome to 'Football Chat' the blog by Agility Sports that shares football news & views largely around the game in England, Scotland & Europe. If you fancy yourself as a budding writer we are always happy to receive potential pieces for publication - just get in touch.

1982 European Cup Final  Aston Villa 1:0 Bayern Munich

When Dennis Went Up To Lift The European Cup

Today's date is the thirty-eighth anniversary of Aston Villa beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in the 1982 European Cup Final (the original Champions League for you youngsters). What has that got to do with anything? Well it is a reminder that, although the German Bundesliga is now in its second week of resumption and the Premier League teams can now start to train with more than themselves, the 2020 Champions and Europa leagues are no closer to resolution.

It wasn’t actually a good final round of Champions League matches for English teams with both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur being knocked out by Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig respectively. The game at Anfield on 11th March is noted for being the last game that an English team took part in but probably more importantly for being a game where the Covid-19 virus seemed to be spread between Liverpool and Spanish fans. Both countries have subsequently experienced possibly the highest infection rates in Europe, and this is the kind of event that transmission could have been accelerated.

The Champions League still needs to play two more rounds before the final with competing clubs coming from Italy, England, France, Spain and Germany. Obviously, all games will be behind closed doors, but four of the five countries have had extremely high infection rates and would need possibly fifty people going to each game (players and officials) with match officials coming from a third nation. The Europa League was in a similar position round wise but some of the Round of 16 games needed playing home and away and the clubs came from far more countries than the five in the Champions League.

With most countries only now starting to get their own domestic games restarted it looks a Herculean effort to fit in the European fixtures as well. It has been suggested that they could be concluded in August after the end of the domestic seasons and possibly in a ‘World Cup’ type format in a neutral country. UEFA have still to decide but the one interesting point will be what will happen to the clubs who play in countries that have finished their seasons? Indeed, Paris Saint Germain would have to play in a neutral country anyway as football has been stopped by the French government until September.

So, if you thought that it was a mess trying to decide what was going to happen in the domestic leagues just wait until we get to decide whether or not European football will be restarted.

Posted : 26th May 2020

We Go Again

So, here we go again, football in Europe is back on though in Germany only at the moment. After what seems like weeks of the English game failing to get agreement on what to do (is Project Start even agreed yet?) the German Bundesliga kicks off again this afternoon with a full programme this week-end including Borussia Dortmund taking on FC Schalke at the Signal Iduna Park.

One thing that will be quite different today at Dortmund will be the size of the crowd due to the game being played behind closed doors. Normally home to up to 80,000 fans, the stadium will be filled by less than three hundred people this afternoon – this figure includes players, club officials and safety staff and is deemed to be the minimum required to get the games played.

All German league players have been in quarantine for the last seven days with frequent checks for the Covid-19 virus. It will be interesting to see how the games go with no atmosphere. A lot of players profess to ignoring the crowd during games but that is probably when they are getting abuse. How will they react when they are not getting the encouragement from their own fans?

Another thing that people will be watching out for is whether fans congregate around the vicinity of the stadium before or after games. It could be argued that football is being fast tracked back to give the population some normality, but games will be played behind closed doors for a while yet. If large crowds start to congregate around stadiums this could give the authorities major concerns as we are still supposed to be exercising social distancing.

For British football fans this will be their first look at live football (if we forget the Belarus experience) for more than two months and expectation is high with many fans being encouraged to pick a Bundesliga team to follow as a substitute for their own true love. The games will all be broadcast live on TV but, unless you have a BT Sport subscription, you may find yourself following it on the internet only.

The key thing with the German experiment will be how it operates and how, logistically, it works as a viable finish to the Bundesliga season. Will players and officials be safe in their footballing bubble, what would happen to the season if people started to test positive for Covid-19 and can fans keep their distance from the stadiums. There will be many officials from The Premier League, La Liga and Serie A looking at the German experiment very closely as they aim to re-start their seasons over the coming weeks.

Posted : 16th May 2020

We're On The Road To Nowhere

In releasing ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ the UK government have confirmed that there will be no professional sport, even behind closed doors, before 1st June. Even so, that at least gives the professional football authorities a date from which they can base their Project Restart plan against. With no games played in the Premier League since Leicester City defeated Aston Villa on March 13th they still have 92 of the scheduled season’s 380 games to play.

Whilst no games can be played it would appear that teams can start returning to training and, with a two month layoff, they would probably need at least four weeks to become ‘match fit’. This points towards a resumption of the league by the middle of June at the earliest subject to there been no significant upswing in Covid-19 infections before then.

The potential of a rise in infections is a moot point across the European football leagues right now. As the Bundesliga in Germany, La Liga in Spain and Serie A in Italy start the process of restarting their seasons there have been various reports of players testing positive for Covid-19. In Germany players from Dynamo Dresden have tested positive alongside players in Italy from Fiorentina and Torino whilst Spain have announced a further five unnamed cases all of whom are asymptomatic. At the weekend, a third Brighton player tested positive showing that the countries who have decided to end their seasons prematurely may have a point.

The German Bundesliga is the closest league to starting back up their professional game and therefore it is more than likely that the other European leagues will be looking to learn from them before they start playing competitive games again. If players (or team officials) start testing positive for Covid-19 in anything more than small numbers, it’s most unlikely that the leagues will get to their end game of completing the season.

If that happens, `then this will be when the real fun starts. How do you decide on placings if you have not finished all the games? If that is where we end up the real winners will, of course, be the lawyers as clubs chase their respective gravy trains.

Posted : 11th May 2020

Take Your Heads Out The Sand

So it is now the start of May and nearly two months have passed since the last Premier League football game was played between Leicester City and Aston Villa. Two aborted attempts to restart have now come and gone yet we are still no nearer resuming the 2019/20 season.

In Europe, of the leagues still yet to finish their season, clubs appear to be splitting in to two camps. The Bundesliga in Germany, La Liga in Spain and Serie A in Italy are taking tentative steps to resume training and ultimately finish their seasons. This contrasts with Eredivisie in Holland, the Belgian Pro League and Ligue One in France who have all ended their seasons (though with some final promotion and relegation places to be decided).

The Premier League in England appears to be holding on to the hope that the season can be rescued – possibly to retain the integrity of the competition but more likely because of the vast sums of money Sky and BT Sport have already paid to the clubs for TV rights. Various scenarios have been put forward in the last forty-eight hours from playing games in ten neutral venues, playing all remaining games at St Georges Park and even playing all the remaining games in Australia.

I respect of the game in England, all of the above is irrelevant anyway until the government is able to take the country out of lockdown. The next key date for that decision should be by the end of this week so we may know more then. But at the moment the Premier League appear to be having conference calls on a weekly basis without making any key decisions - they cannot anyway without government support.

Even if the clubs get the green light to go back to training what will the constraints be? Football is, after all, a contact sport but we are living in an age of social distancing. It is also a game of the fans and all the likely scenarios assume that games will be behind closed doors. All this is before we even get on to the topics of players on loan or players whose contracts run out on the 30th June.

What the Premier League need to do is set a target date. If by that date, there is no agreed proposal to restart or if the government has not lifted the lockdown, then the 2019/20 should be declared null and void. All clubs, including those further down the pyramid, can then start to plan for the 2020/21 season. Football authorities just get your heads out the sand!

Posted : 3rd May 2020